Last week the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists voted unanimously to oppose a proposed 'anti-panhandling' ordinance being considered by the Oklahoma City Council.
Oklahoma SPJ believes the ordinance would prevent working members of the news media from covering events, such as those emergency events that happen on a roadway.
Oklahoma SPJ sent the following letter to Ken Jordan, Municipal Counselor for the City of Oklahoma City:
Mr. Kenneth Jordan, Municipal Counselor
City of Oklahoma City
200 N. Walker
Oklahoma City, OK 73102
Dear Mr. Jordan:
Recently the Oklahoma City Council began consideration of a proposed ordinance to curb panhandling within the boundaries of Oklahoma City. While we of the Oklahoma Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists respect this effort, we have great concerns with the ordinance’s current language.
We believe, as previously stated to you by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, that this ordinance would create “an incredibly broad prior restraint on speech in a traditional public forum.”
For example, as it is currently written, this ordinance would prohibit working members of the media from covering breaking news that occurred on a road or highway within the Oklahoma City limits.
Prohibiting a media representative from being in a median or on a roadway to cover a breaking event would act as a prior restraint on that media outlet and prevent them from informing the public of the occurrence.
Please understand we respect the idea increasing efforts to better protect the public. However, reporters – like emergency personnel – are an active part of any emergency situation and are trained and understand the risks involved in covering such events. In fact, by making the public aware of such an event, we at SPJ believe we are contributing to this public safety effort by providing up-to-date, accurate information to the public.
Under the proposed city ordinance, our efforts to inform the public would be hampered.
Further, we also take issue with the effect the ordinance would have on sales of the Curbside Chronicle and other publications. As you are well aware, the Curbside Chronicle Magazine recently received a $45,000 grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. By limiting the ability of Chronicle vendors to sell the magazine – indeed, by limiting the ability of any print media outlet to sell its product in such a manor, the city again, places an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of the press.
In short, this ordinance would greatly undermine the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and hamper media representatives in their efforts to cover events and distribute their product to the public
Because of these issues, the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalist voted unanimously last Friday to oppose this ordinance.
We urge the Oklahoma City Council to rethink this proposal. Please know SPJ of Oklahoma would be happy to collaborate with city officials to assist in the development of an alternative proposal.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at 405-412-5200.
Michael Cross, President
Oklahoma Pro Chapter
Society of Professional Journalists